Trigger Warnings: What they are (and are NOT)

It’s time we discuss what a trigger warning actually is and why you may want to consider including one in your book description or blurb if you include certain types of incidents in your story. (Spoiler – it has nothing to do with your reader being dictators and everything to do with respecting your audience.)

Trigger Warnings | I Am Rosa

Conversations are cropping up more and more in writing groups where an author ponders if they should include a trigger warning on their book and half a dozen folks jump in with things like:

  • Life doesn’t come with warnings”
  • “Warnings on books are spoilers”
  • “I’m tired of snowflakes wanting to be protected from words in a book!”
  • “They should know to expect [insert terrible thing] when they read [insert genre]”
  • “Bad stuff happens to people every day”

… and my pet peeve; “That’s censorship!”

I’m fed up with authors spouting “life doesn’t come with warning labels” and “trigger warnings are for delicate snowflakes”. Let’s take a look at some of these arguments against trigger warnings.

 

 

Censorship

I  beyond annoyed with authors equating trigger warnings (ie. Warning: Contains violent sex and domestic violence) with censorship (ie. “Remove this content from your book or it will never be published!“). You’d think people who write for a living would know the difference between a request for common courtesy and a dictator seizing control.

Including a trigger warning isn’t censorship.  No one is asking you to remove those parts of the book – which is what censorship is. Most readers assume you added them for a good reason and respect that decision.

 

Genre or “Mature” Notice Should Be Enough

Authors need to understand: Writing in a certain genre or saying there is “Mature” or “Adult” content, does not automatically equal rape and abuse. Most adults don’t mind mature content – sex, language, and even some violence. But a shockingly large number of adults have been brutalized in their past. They have a very real need to know if there is triggering content, such as rape, domestic violence, and child abuse. They must know in advance so they can either watch for it and skip the scene or forego reading your book completely (while feeling positive toward you).

When someone who has been traumatized comes across triggering content unawares, they can have panic or anxiety attacks, and suffer nightmares and flashbacks – for days.

 

You Can See It Coming

I hear so many people saying, “But you can see things that might trigger you coming up”. Most times, yes. But, even if you skip the triggering scene, the character spends the rest of the story dealing with the aftermath of the incident: recall, flashbacks, nightmares, overwhelming emotions, etc. that could trigger your reader and there’s no “lead up” to prepare a person for that.

 

I Have PTSD and Don’t Need Trigger Warnings

Here’s something the psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors often forget to mention:

Trigger topics are a broad paintbrush. There are certain
overlaps and commonalities in types of triggers, but
everyone’s triggers are different.

Just because something doesn’t trigger you doesn’t mean someone else with PTSD from a different cause won’t be triggered. This is also true for people with phobias and other disorders.

 

People Are Just Delicate Snowflakes

Calling a reader is a “snowflake” (or any other slur) because they need a trigger warning is flat-out hostile. Why be a dick to potential clients and reviewers? Remember: Word of Mouth can make or break your reputation.

As someone who requires trigger warnings, I can say with sincerity:

I am not a delicate snowflake. I am a deeply feeling person who was horribly brutalized. I am a determined individual who spent years clawing her way through PTSD to “normal” (or as close as I can get) so I can be a functioning parent, partner, and member of my community.

I tell you from personal experience: It’s hell to have old horrors dragged up from the depths because someone didn’t have the courtesy to warn you about something in a book you were reading for pleasure to escape “Real Life”.

I don’t want to give up reading your books because there “might” be something lurking there to drag me back into the Darkness. I don’t want spoilers or chunks of your work removed. I simply want to know if the “mature content” means

1) Characters having sex and cussing their faces off while shit blows up around them, in which case: Good! I can deal with that. In fact, it will help me process my own emotions and “own my shadow”.

OR

2) The main character is going to be victimized. In this case; Polite pass for my own well-being and the benefit of those who depend on me…. But, I will look for your other works and share a link to your book with people I know who might like this one.

Wouldn’t you like the same courtesy shown to you?

 

So, what is a trigger warning?

A request for trigger warnings is your readers asking that you respect them enough to give a heads up about how dark things are going to get. This can be done without giving details or spoilers.

You are being asked to do this so your reader can make a conscious and informed choice about your story. You are protecting your reader from inadvertent harm; showing them compassion which will garner a favorable opinion of you. They may not read this book, but they’ll be on the lookout for another one by you, because you respected them.

More importantly, trigger warnings gift readers with something precious that was stolen by the people who hurt them: FREE WILL. You are giving others the ability to walk away from an experience that might hurt them.

 

What a Trigger Warning Is

  • A short sentence that gives a concise list of topics (ie. rape, domestic violence, child abuse)  in your book that may trigger your reader into having flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, and other negative responses based on something traumatizing that happened to them in the past.
  • A courtesy and sign of respect afforded your readers to give them the option of being alert and skipping parts of your story or passing on your book.

 

What a Trigger Warning Is NOT

  • A detailed description of actions or incidents in your book.
  • A demand for you to remove or rewrite content in your book.
  • A method of controlling you.

 

trigger-warnings-is-and-is-not | I Am Rosa
Since the internet loves images and memes, I made this one for you to share, assuming you agree and would like others to learn more about trigger warnings.

Not sure if your story should have a trigger warning?
Read my follow up article, Should You Include a Trigger Warning?
which list content your readers should be warned about.

Why Men Are Uncomfortable with Ambitious Women

What is it about an independent and ambitious woman that makes most men squirm? I have a few thoughts …

ambitious-women | I Am Rosa

My boyfriend came across an article talking about how men aren’t comfortable with ambitious women. He’s a pretty forward-thinking guy who spent years looking for a lady actively pursuing her own ambitions. He’s genuinely baffled by the news that other men aren’t comfortable with strong, independent women.  He asked me:

Who are these guys?

I’m afraid I had a bit of knee-jerk reaction and blurted out:

OMG!! Almost every effing man I’ve ever met!

“Why?” he asked. “I don’t get it.”

Why are some men afraid of women with ambition? Good question. There are a lot of reasons. Let’s look at some of the ones I’ve encountered throughout my life:

  • Insecurities;
  • Jealousy;
  • Being raised with specific expectations and views of women …

And some guys are just plain jerks. Over the past 20+ years as an adult with dreams and goals, I’ve run into a staggering number of responses from men that warrant some mighty big WTF?? reactions. Some of these were from the important men in my life!

  • If I have an idea, it’s not good enough until a man comes up with it. (I’m not alone and thank goodness the women on Obama’s staff taught us how to deal with that!)
  • If I don’t have an equal education, I’m not considered smart or even useful beyond a certain point.
  • If I want to learn more, I’m so “cute” which sometimes includes being patronizingly patted on the arm, back or head!
  • If I clearly and respectfully express my boundaries, I’m a bitch.
  • If I don’t respond to a pick-up or turn down a meet up, I’m a snob and anti-social.
  • If I go out to karaoke or dancing and don’t want to hook up with some random dude, I’m a tease.
  • If I don’t want sex, I’m an “Ice Queen”.
  • If I do want sex, I’m a slut or “needy”.
  • If I express my likes or dislikes, I’m bossy, picky, and can’t be pleased.
  • If I make a certain amount of money, the men who don’t make as much think I’m greedy, sleeping with someone, or outright try to derail my progress.
  • If I get groped or kissed without permission, I  am told to be grateful that someone found me attractive.

Some men who say they want a woman who is equal or has goals, visualize that reality with a limitation for the woman. It’s either because he doesn’t see himself going very far (so she can’t either) or because she “should” also be running the home, popping out babies, and raising them while meeting her goals (!?!).

Each of these statements were said by men who claimed they wanted an ambitious, independent women:

  • How did you ever get along without me?
  • What would you do without me to do this for you?
  • You’d never survive without me.

You may have noticed these statements invalid my ability to think or function. They presume I did not – and would not – do well on my own. Like having a penis in the home saves me from the incompetence they presume upon me.

Not all men are jerks, obviously. Some men are afraid of women with ambition, strength, and skill because they don’t know what they can offer. These are men who cannot see their own worth or value to an ambitious woman.

It’s important for men to know that a strong woman values her man for other reasons. She may not need him in the traditional ways our society has trained them to be needed, but there are things a strong man can provide that will make her thrive, including:

  • His autonomy in the relationship;
  • Unconditional support;
  • Sincere encouragement;
  • Admiration …

These things make him a priceless asset. A man she will love, adore, and depend on more than if he just opens the pickle jar or changes the oil in the car. If a strong woman doesn’t need you, it’s because you’re not giving what she needs.

“And a strong man doesn’t see his S.O. as a servant,” my boyfriend piped in. “He sees them as a partner.” He gets it. That’s one of the many reasons I’m dating him. Now, he needs to explain it to the clueless men around him.

 


Want to know what strong women want in a relationship?
Read 10 Things Alpha Women Need in a Relationship
by Power of Positivity.

The “Socially Acceptable” Villain

The Socially Acceptable Vllian | I Am Rosa

Really good stories have more than one antagonist. There’s your “Big Bad” villain, but real life is filled with lots of “socially acceptable” villains that create drama, pain, and obstacles in your every day life.

What does that look like? Let me illustrate by using the example of a woman we’ll call “Jane” for ease of reference. Jane was sexually abused in her past; her sexual consent was stolen from her. As an adult, she has several boyfriends on the go at once (7 to be exact) and none of the relationships are sexual. The men know that they’re part of her “harem” and are all vying to be #1 boyfriend.

Some of these men have the notion that if he is Jane’s favourite, she will marry him and he would be the only man in her life from that point on. This is not the case. Jane has created a reality for herself where she is in complete control of these relationships. She is now “safe” and “loved”, under no obligation to have sex. Ever. If she marries, that reality will be lost.

Jane is what can be called a “socially acceptable villain”. In her effort to “win” situations from her past, Jane is now controlling people who had nothing to do with the harm done to her. She’s not a “big bad” villain, but the pain she causes is real.

You probably have a socially acceptable antagonist in  your life. These people can seem loving and loyal, but end up destroying your self-esteem in subtle ways. Take a look around and see if you can spot them. Maybe it’s the “friend” who says”I don’t know why X said you look fat in that outfit.” She hurt you, but she’s made X the target.

Is there room in your story for a socially acceptable antagonist?

5 Free Stock Photo Sites

One of the questions I come across frequently is: “Where can I find good stock images for free?”

5-stock-sites-header | I Am Rosa

Whether you’re making inspirational quote memes, marketing images for your book or product, social media cover image, or a book cover, you need quality images. Preferably for free. And, if you’re like me, you need them to be available for commercial use without having to pay huge subscription or licensing fees.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a huge list that I barely use and 5 that are my go-to sites, because they’re easy to use and usually have what I need.

Public Domain Sites:

 

Royalty Free Sites:

 

Update: Need a bigger variety of stock photos? Check out Rosa’s List of  Stock Photo Sites (pdf here). The list includes no-fee, paying, public domain, and royalty free. Be sure to double-check the licensing terms of each site before using their images.

 

Don’t see your fav on the list? Drop me a link in the comments!!

Bonus

If you don’t have the time  or skill to create your own memes from scratch, Pablo is easy to use and produces gorgeous results.

stock-sites | I Am Rosa